Inside take on a Folger, Bodleian, and Ransom Center exhibition on the creation and afterlife of the King James Bible on the 400th anniversary of its publication.

Posts tagged “Shakespeare

A Skillful Facsimile Page in a 1611 King James Bible

There’s an intriguing tradition of a “crocodile mystery” on the Folger Shakespeare Library blog, “The Collation,” which periodically posts the mystery in question, awaits comment, and then posts an explanation a few days later. Earlier in May, we were intrigued by a crocodile mystery image that looked like a page from the 1611 King James Bible. What was so mysterious about this image? Was something not as it appeared? The answer, from Collation author Sarah Werner, Undergraduate Program Director at the Folger, concerned a fascinating nineteenth-century phenomenon, the “pen facsimile.” We wanted to share the following excerpt from her Collation blog post, which you can read in full here:

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Pen facsimile page, 1611 Authorized Bible (King James Bible), Folger

Pen facsimile page, 1611 King James Bible, Folger

As the commenters on our May 3 crocodile guessed, the mystery image shown there, and repeated here, shows writing masquerading as print or, to use the more formal term, a pen facsimile. (Click on any image in this post to enlarge it).

The book in question is the Folger copy of the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible, also called the King James Bible. The last leaves of the book are increasingly damaged—the corners are missing and repaired with blank paper—until the final original leaf is entirely gone. In its place is a pen facsimile, a hand-drawn copy of what the original leaf would have looked like.

As you can see by comparing the facsimile with the original leaf, shown here from a copy at the University of Pennsylvania, the facsimilist did a very good job. But you can also see, when you’re looking for it, that the pen facsimile is just a bit wobblier than the print original. The kerning (the adjustment of spacing between letters) is just slightly irregular; some long-s’s are missing their crossbar; and the three capital-G’s starting the instances of “God” in the third verse are all just slightly differently shaped.

Once you know which is which, it’s hard to “unsee” the details that reveal it as a facsimile.

At left: Pen facsimile of final page from Folger copy. At right: original printed page from 1611 King James Bible, University of Pennsylvania

At left: Pen facsimile of final page from Folger copy. At right: original printed page from 1611 King James Bible, University of Pennsylvania

Adding pen facsimiles of missing or damaged leaves was not unusual in the nineteenth century for collectors who preferred their works to be pristine and perfect, a common preference. Adding such a facsimile was referred to as a way of perfecting the copy. The verb “to perfect” is one of those odd bibliographical terms that shows how much standards and tastes have changed since we’ve been studying rare books and similar objects. To perfect a book was to supply any missing or damaged leaves with leaves from another copy of that book or with facsimiles of those leaves. By our modern-day standards, of course, this is far from a perfect practice and one that libraries today don’t follow.

Shakespeare First Folio, 1623. Damaged and "perfected" title page. Folger.

Shakespeare First Folio, 1623. Damaged and “perfected” title page. Folger.

It’s not clear who the facsimilist was for the Folger’s King James Bible, or when the work was done. There’s a note in the catalog of the former owner, W.T. Smedley, from nineteenth-century Bible expert Francis Fry, attesting to the book’s good condition and noting that “The last leaf is repaired. It is very rare. They are so often lost.” Either Fry was using “repaired” as a euphemism for “facsimile” (although this seems unlikely, since he accurately describes the volume’s title page as a facsimile) or it was done after Fry examined the book.

Facsimilists, including the unknown figure who created the final page of the Folger’s KJV, were not intending to deceive anyone by passing off copies as originals. Rather, the intent was to make as close to complete as possible copies of works that were missing leaves. While I’m astounded by the talent of such a facsimilist as we just saw, my favorite pen facsimile, shown here, reveals not remarkable skill, but remarkable desire. This title page is from one of the 82 copies of the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare in the Folger collection. It’s not what I would do if I owned a First Folio with a torn title page, but then again, I can’t begrudge the desire of this long-ago owner to make clear what this book is.

Sarah Werner is the Undergraduate Program Director at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

To read the rest of this article, including additional amazing images of pen facsimiles and their print equivalents, read the full blog post on The Collation. For more information about another facsimilist, John Harris, and a bibliography of books and articles related to the practice, consult this interesting page from the British Library.

To explore more of the Folger first edition of the 1611 King James Bible, complemented by notes and read-aloud audio, consult our online feature Read the Book. Since the Folger copy lacks an original title page, as co-curator Steve Galbraith explains in his title-page audio comment, Read the Book uses the original 1611 title page from a Bodleian Library copy.


Opening Manifold Greatness with Theatrical Flair

Exhibit visitor. Photos by Julia Ciccio.

Exhibit visitor. Photos by Julia Ciccio.

The Manifold Greatness exhibition officially opened at Harford Community College (Bel Air, Maryland) on April 22, 2013, with a reception, a lecture, and theatrical readings.

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night

Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion Gary Owens lectured on “Catholicism, Protestantism, Blood, Guts, Ink and the King James Bible” to a room filled with community members, students, and faculty. Nearly every seat was taken.

In his lecture, Dr. Owens described in depth some of the earlier efforts to translate the Bible into English (and into other languages than Latin), as well as placing the work of translation in context and explaining the risks—and in many cases, the consequences—of this work. The bountiful and compelling slides that illustrated his narrative, as well as his lively presentation style, brought this history to life for all participants. The audience stayed well past the planned 75-minute lecture and discussion to ask questions and learn more about this history.

HCC theater professor Ben Fisler. Julia Cioccio.

Theater professor Ben Fisler

The reception was scheduled from 3 to 7 p.m. and attracted many viewers over the course of four hours. During the last hour of the reception, HCC Associate Professor of Theater Ben Fisler spoke about the explosion in the development of the English language that was taking place at the time that Shakespeare wrote and during the period of the translation of the King James Bible.

Mike Brown as Junius Booth

Mike Brown as Junius Booth

Two HCC students performed monologues from Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night, and Mike Brown (in the person of the great Shakespearean actor, Junius Brutus Booth) gave a dramatic reading of Psalm 46 from the King James Bible.

The Booth family home, Tudor Hall, is located just a couple of miles from the college, and Tudor Hall is a partner in HCC’s presentation of Manifold Greatness.

A more extended version of the readings and talk is scheduled for May 9 from 6 to 9 p.m., under the title ‘A Great Feast of Languages’: The Language of Shakespeare and of the King James Bible.

Carol Allen is the Library Director of Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland.


May 2 and Other King James Bible Myths

King James, seen here in our online coloring activity, did not translate the King James Bible. It also wasn't published on May 2.

King James, seen here in our online coloring activity, did not translate the King James Bible. It also wasn’t published on May 2.

It’s May 2 today, and that makes it the anniversary of… a classic May 2, 2011, blog post by Manifold Greatness co-curator Hannibal Hamlin, explaining just why May 2 isn’t and couldn’t be the anniversary of the King James Bible’s publication date.

But the curious tradition of May 2 is not the only King James Bible myth that he’s discussed on this blog. One of our all-time most popular blog posts (with a fairly self-explanatory title, we think) remains Shakespeare did not write the King James Bible, no way, no how. Nor did the King James Bible influence Shakespeare’s plays: the timing was wrong, as explained here.

Dealing with another common misconception, King James didn’t write the King James Bible, either. See this blog post for that explanation.

Curious to learn more? These and other questions are included as Myth or Reality? FAQS on our Manifold Greatness website, too. What makes the King James Bible so subject to myths, stories, and misconceptions? Perhaps, in part, it’s just a sign of its cultural and religious importance. As for May 2, it’s an unusually prosaic “myth” about a book publication date, rarely the stuff of legend or romance. As Hannibal Hamlin suggests in his original “May 2″ blog post, perhaps just having a definite date—any date—helps satisfy our perennial desire for certainty.

The Manifold Greatness project, including this blog, began in 2011, the 400th anniversary year of the 1611 King James Bible. To learn more about the origins, creation, and broad influence of the King James Bible, explore our Manifold Greatness website. To try our coloring game, select “Coloring” from the Games and Activities section of the website’s “Kids Zone.”


Special Collections Take Center Stage at Saint Michael’s College

Rare Bibles from the collections of Middlebury College Special Collections, the University of Vermont Special Collections and Saint Michael’s College.  Clockwise from Top left: King James Version 1629; first Bible printed in state of Vermont 1812; Luther Bible 1696; incunable Bible 1477-78, Geneva Bible 1596-97; Geneva Bible 1644.

Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, VT.

The exhibition of Manifold Greatness at Saint Michael’s College’s Durick Library is off to a great start.  We actually kicked of the events before the exhibit even arrived in Vermont! In March, the University of Vermont Special Collections opened up with an exhibit of their rare Bibles, including their 1613 KJB.  A bit later in the month, they hosted a panel discussion entitled “Authorized Versions: Perspectives on the King James Bible.”  In this panel discussion, three UVM faculty members offered theological, historical, and literary perspectives on the coming of the King James Bible and its place in the early modern world.  Anne Clark spoke on “Before the King James: Medieval Bibles and Their Users”; Charles F. Briggs spoke on “The Problematic Publishing Background of the Bible in English, from Wyclif through the Mid-Sixteenth Century”; and Andrew Barnaby added a bit of drama to the mix, speaking on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and the King James Bible.  This well-attended session was an excellent introduction to the King James Bible, and had us anxiously awaiting the official opening of the Manifold Greatness exhibition!  

Instead of simply hanging around waiting for the panels to arrive, we got working on the complementary exhibits we had planned.  Library staff put together several displays from our circulating collections—one featuring scholarship related to the King James Version, another focused on the Catholic Reformation and Counter Reformation,  and a third featuring some of the more interesting contemporary Bibles in our collection.  

Rare Bibles from the collections of Middlebury College Special Collections, the University of Vermont Special Collections and Saint Michael’s College. Clockwise from Top left: King James Version 1629; first Bible printed in state of Vermont 1812; Luther Bible 1696; incunable Bible 1477-78, Geneva Bible 1596-97; Geneva Bible 1644. Courtesy of Saint Michael’s College.

In our rare book cases, we have complementary exhibits of rare books from our collections and with donations from the University of Vermont Special Collections and Middlebury College.  Their wonderful additions to the display included a Rheims New Testament from 1582, a 1629 King James Version, an incunable Bible printed by Nicolaus Gotz in 1477-78, and the first Holy Bible published in the state of Vermont, published in 1812 in Windsor, VT.  Among our own collection of Catholic Reformation and Counter Reformation works, we have on display Tridentine Catechisms and a lovely Missale Romanum, a Graduale Romanum for the Tridentine Mass, that are fine examples of two of the major reforms of the Council of Trent.  One of the more interesting titles on display is Locorum Catholicorum tum sacrae scripturae, tum etiam antiquorum patrum, por orthodoxa, et vetere fide retinenda, septem, by Francisco Horantio (Orantes) printed in Venice in 1564.  This text discusses the importance of seven Deutero-canonical (or Apocryphal) books of the Bible and includes an “ardent” refutation of John Calvin’s arguments against the veneration of the Saints. 

By the time the panels themselves arrived in the library the day after Easter, the other exhibits were in place.  Saint Michael’s students were away for the long Easter weekend, so they did not have to watch us dismantle some of the most favored group study spots in the library!  Although it is a significant change from the study tables, the exhibit panels fills in the space quite nicely.  It will be sad to see Manifold Greatness close next week.

Elizabeth B. Scott is an Archivist at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, VT.


Easter 2011: KJB at the Globe

The Bible at the Globe. Courtesy Carol Kelly.

“The King James Bible was written to be read aloud. It was a performance text or it was nothing.” This stirring declaration by David Hall, head of classics at Dollar Academy, in his essay in the theater program shown here, suggests one reason behind the plethora of nationwide and worldwide recitals of the KJB in the last few months, including this one at the Globe in London that covered the entire text. The setting provided the perfect link with Shakespeare, whose plays, too, were written to be performed, not read.

I attended the Easter Sunday afternoon recitals of the Gospels according to St. Luke and St. John at the Globe. Four actors, two male, two female, took it in turns to recite the entire texts, in sections of about ten to fifteen minutes each. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of visuals—I was hoping they wouldn’t have someone reciting from a pulpit dressed in Jacobean clothes! In fact, the four young actors were casually dressed, which added not only a comfortable informality to the proceedings but also seemed a good way to reinforce the notion that this Bible still speaks to us today, just as it did four hundred years ago. The text was piped discreetly into their ears with the help of i-players but this did not detract at all from their delivery, which was engaging and fluent. The actors moved around the empty stage, at times addressing the audience, at times delivering their lines to the whole cosmic world with clarity and thought-provoking intensity. They brought out the wonder of the words but also the humor and humanity behind the familiar stories.

Barbara Marten, Globe Bible recital, 2011. Photo: Fiona Moorhead

The recital was designed so that people could come and go freely, and folks taking the tour of the Globe that day were ushered in and out to sample a short section of the recital. I was apprehensive about being able to sit for four hours on a seat with no back, listening to a recital with minimal visuals, but it was far from being a challenge.

The Gospel according to St. John seemed particularly suited to the young actors’ talents. Although not one word was cut, the recital had been carefully structured so that each section ended on a poignant moment or on a passage that was memorable such as, “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47)

The experience made me appreciate not only the power of those words, but also the human voice as an instrument of communication. I thought of seventeenth-century churchgoers hearing the King James Bible for the first time. This recital brought the words to life, where they belong.

Carol Kelly is the Festivals Project Coordinator for the Education Department of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. As she notes here, she attended the April 24, 2011, afternoon performance of the Shakespeare’s Globe read-through of the entire King James Bible, which we previewed in this earlier post.


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